Escaping from a maximum security underwater prison was easier than Clint would have thought it would be. He wasn't sure when Steve got so good at jailbreaks, but he had a feeling the answer would probably end up being 'Nazis'. It pretty much always was with Steve.
Most of the guards were already unconscious as they move up through the facility, heading for the helicopter flight deck. Steve didn't have his shield with him, but that didn't seem to have slowed him down at all on his way in to spring them.
When they got up to the flightdeck, Barnes was the one sitting behind the wheel of the getaway helicopter. Clint gave him a nod as he helped Wanda climb in, then followed her, which was when he noticed that Barnes's metal arm was now little more than a stump.
Wow, they must have missed out on a worryingly hardcore battle with those other Hydra super soldiers if Steve was down a shield and Barnes was down a super-cool robot arm. Clint couldn't decide if he was relieved he'd been in prison for it, or wished he'd been able to have their backs. At least they must have won, if they were free to come spring the rest of them. As much as anyone could be said to have won while still being on the run from the UN, obviously.
Sam and Scott were only a few steps behind Clint and Wanda, but they had to wait a tense few minutes before Steve came rushing out. The roof was already opening as he jumped into the helicopter, and they took off just as a handful of guards came running out, sending bullets rattling off the side of the helicopter.
It was pretty crowded once Cap was on board as well, so Clint moved into the cockpit to the co-pilot's seat. Barnes didn't seem to be finding it tricky to fly a helicopter one-handed, so he didn't bother offering to take over.
Barnes glanced over and gave him a nod. "Welcome to being a known fugitive from international law."
Clint froze up and stared at him. Oh god. Those were his words. That was the sentence that ran around the left side of his ribs in a messy, slanting hand.
Bucky Barnes was his soulmate.
It took him a second to realise that meant that whatever he said next was inscribed somewhere on Barnes's body, and had been his whole life. Aw man, that was a lot of pressure.
Clint's own words had been a source of anxiety since he'd been a kid. At least now he knew exactly why he was a fugitive and that it wasn't because of anything he was going to hate himself for. Of course, it would have been better if his hoped-for scenario of it being a joke had come through and he hadn't actually ended up on the run from....well, from everyone.
He opened his mouth to reply, then shut it again when he realised his mind was blank. Oh god, what did he say? What did he want his soulmate to have spent his whole life puzzling over? Something nice, nothing that would make him think his soulmate was gonna be a dick. Something that stood out so he'd recognise it as soon as Clint said it. Too many people just had 'Hi, nice to meet you' or something similar, which got awkward very quickly.
By all accounts, Barnes had had a really shitty time the last few decades -and Clint would be freaking out over having a guy born in 1917 for a soulmate later- so maybe Clint should be saying something that could have been a comfort to him when he didn't have anything else. If your mind were wiped and you were turned into a brainwashed killing machine, what words would be the most comforting to have inscribed on your body?
Shit, Clint had no idea.
The helicopter flight only went as far as the mainland, where the quinjet Steve and Barnes had, uh, 'liberated' was waiting for them.
As they swapped vehicles, Clint was still trying to find something worth saying to Barnes and coming up with nothing.
"Where are we headed?" asked Sam, heading straight for the controls of the quinjet.
"Wakanda," said Steve, following him.
Clint trailed behind everyone else as he debated the merits of a direct compliment versus a witty pick-up line, and then found that the only seat left was the one next to Barnes. Right, of course.
He sat down, belted himself in, and then carefully avoided looking at him. He had to get this right and not be pushed into a conversation that meant he'd end up saying something stupid or bland.
Oh god, don't let him be bland, that would be the worst.
Barnes shifted beside him, rolling his shoulders, then settled with his back against the window so that he was facing Clint. Okay, great, Clint could deal with his scrutiny. Yup. Just needed to find something to say.
At this point, anything would do.
His mind remained achingly blank. He found himself just looking at Barnes, taking in his looks in a different way now that he knew he was looking at his soulmate. He might be an arm down and scruffy in a vaguely vagabond-y way but, wow, he really was kinda hot.
"If you guys are hungry, there's food bars in the back," said Barnes.
Clint just awkwardly shook his head, keeping his mouth shut.
Barnes raised an eyebrow at him. "You okay?"
Clint nodded. Oh man, this was crunch time. He needed something to say. Something good. Something that wasn't Are you aware your shoulders are the best thing I've seen in months?
"You sure?" persisted Barnes. "You seem a lot quieter than Steve described you as being."
"Quiet is the last thing Clint usually is," said Wanda from the seat behind. "I mean, he's not Tony, but..."
"Yeah, speaking as someone who just spent way too long locked up in the cell next to him, he never shuts up," said Scott, which was rude and also hypocritical. Clint turned to shoot him a glare, but didn't open his mouth in case it was interpreted as speaking to Barnes as well.
Barnes frowned but didn't say anything. He turned away from Clint to stare at the window.
Ten minutes passed, during which Clint did his best to come up with something he wanted branded on his soulmate's skin and only managed to come up with a whole list of things he really, really didn't want to see on there.
You should know that Scott is way more irritating than I am. Well, mostly.
Hey, so, how freaky is it that you were born the same year as my gran?
Not to boast, but I'm the best damn shot in the world and can also tie a cherry stalk in a knot with my tongue.
"If I make you uncomfortable, I can swap seats with someone," said Barnes, eventually. "Or, just go and stand at the back or something."
Aw no. He sounded all quiet and defeated, Clint couldn't have that. Without stopping to think, he opened his mouth to say something, anything, to stop him sounding like that.
"You said my words and I've been trying to come up with something to say back that isn't totally lame but it's way harder than you'd think and, oh shit, I've done it anyway, haven't I? You've got this bullshit on you somewhere." He dropped his head into his hands. "Sorry."
Barnes stared at him for a long moment, then took hold of the bottom of his t-shirt, pulling it straight up and over his head and revealing an incredible set of abs, a perfectly chiselled chest, shoulders that were even more beautiful naked than they had been in the t-shirt, and a line of black writing, curving around above his collar bone.
I got a chopper lined up.
"You already spoke to me, at the airport," he said, tugging the t-shirt off entirely and then settling back into his seat, apparently perfectly content to just lounge around bare-chested. "Don't you remember?"
Clint stared at his words. "Huh," he said, thinking back. "So I did. Wait, so that means you knew I was gonna end up with 'Welcome to being a known fugitive from international law' on me when you said it? You fucker, do you have any idea what it's like to be a 6-year-old that everyone knows is going to grow up to be an international fugitive?"
Barnes gave him a shit-eating grin. "Sorry, it was just what sprung to mind. It was that, or the worst archery-related sexual innuendo I could think of."
"It's not the length of the shaft, it's the accuracy of your shot," said Clint immediately, without even having to think about it.
Barnes grinned. “I bet you can just keep pounding a bullseye all day long," he returned.
Apparently Clint's soulmate was both hot and awesome enough to get into an innuendo battle with Clint. And, you know, massively traumatised by years of mindfuckery and torture, but Clint was trying to look on the bright side.
“Besides, it kinda felt like I owed you payback,” added Barnes. “You know that helicopters weren't called choppers until long after I was a kid, right? I spent years trying to decide if someone was going to be offering me an axe or coming out with some frankly terrible innuendo.”
It took Clint a moment to get that before he grinned. “Well, I mean, I can line up that kind of chopper as well if you want.”
Barnes rolled his eyes. “Yeah, that's more like how Steve described you. He said you were kinda an asshole.”
Hawkeye was his soulmate. An Avenger; an actual bone fide hero. That had to be wrong. Maybe it was a coincidence that what he'd said had matched Bucky's words. There were only so many ways you could say you had a helicopter available, right?
German came out over the tannoy and Bucky turned to listen to it. "They're evacuating the airport," he translated, and there was no time to think about anything else after that. Certainly not about possible soulmates.
Instead, they had a fight and Bucky found himself not even able to watch Hawkeye's part of it because he was cut off inside the terminal. If the guy was his soulmate and he ended up getting killed within minutes of Bucky finding him then, well, that would pretty much fit with the rest of Bucky's shitty life.
He and Steve made it onto the plane, but no one else did. They took off, leaving Steve's friends behind, and Bucky tried hard not to think about what a bad deal Steve had made, swapping all those guys for Bucky.
"What's gonna happen to your friends?" he asked.
"Whatever it is, I'll deal with it," said Steve, in the kind of tone that had made Bucky follow him across every goddamn battlefield in Europe.
How the hell hadn't Steve lost even an inch of his confidence that he'd be able to make everything right if he was just stubborn enough? How hadn't the world beaten that out of him yet?
Bucky turned to look out of the window at the ocean they were flying over. “Did you hear what Hawkeye said to me?”
He could only see Steve's face as a reflection in the windscreen, but it was enough for him to see the frown. “Did he say something mean? He probably only meant it as a joke, he's got a weird sense of humour sometimes.”
“No,” said Bucky. “Nothing like that. He said 'I got a chopper lined up.'”
Steve's frown didn't clear up until Bucky caught his eye in the reflection and tapped at his collarbone, where those words were traced out in a clear, steady hand.
Steve had seen them a thousand times as they were growing up and his eyes widened with recognition. “Oh holy shit,” he said, starting forward. “I didn't even realise. Why didn't you say anything?”
Bucky snorted. “When we were being shot at, or when that kid was covering us in that webbing shit, or when we were running from the freaky cat guy? There wasn't really time. And it might just have been a coincidence.”
Steve was so busy staring at Bucky's reflection that Bucky was a little concerned they weren't ever going to make it to Siberia. He'd seen enough at the Smithsonian to know that one of things Steve had become famous for was a plane crash.
Eh, it wasn't as if they wouldn't both survive being plunged into a freezing ocean. They just might lose a few more decades before they got pulled out again.
“You didn't speak to him?” asked Steve. “Confirm it?”
Bucky shook his head. “Nah.” He could have. There had been a chance to while they'd been suiting up and getting ready, but he hadn't wanted to be a distraction. Not to mention the part of him that thought it might be better if Hawkeye never found out who his soulmate was, and especially not if Bucky was about to be killed or arrested or whatever by Stark and his guys.
Instead, Hawkeye had been the one arrested.
Bucky shook his head. “I don't know if I'm worth all this, Steve.”
“Bullshit,” said Steve. “What you did all those years... It wasn't you. You didn't have a choice.”
“I know,” said Bucky. “But I did it.”
Which pretty much ended the conversation, at least for the moment.
They went to Siberia and things went from bad to worse, which was pretty impressive given that Bucky thought they were already pretty shitty. They limped out of the base, Steve's arm holding Bucky up more than he wanted to admit and found Black Panther waiting for them.
Bucky felt his heart sink as he contemplated another bloody fight with someone who wanted to kill him for murdering their father. He was so god-damned tired of fighting. For a moment he just contemplated lying down in the snow and letting the guy go for it, but the solid weight of Steve beside him stopped him. He'd sacrificed everything for Bucky in the last week, he couldn't let it all be for nothing.
Not to mention that somewhere, Bucky had a soulmate that he should probably talk to at least once before he threw in the towel. If he could think of anything worth saying.
“Your Highness,” said Steve, sounding guarded and no doubt wishing that he still had his shield with him.
“Captain Rogers,” said T'Challa. “Don't worry, I'm not here for violence. I think there has been more than enough.” He looked over the two of them. “You look like you could do with a refuge.”
“Are you offering one?” asked Steve.
T'Challa dipped his head. “To you and any of your friends that might find themselves unexpectedly liberated over the next few days,” he said. “I have the villain behind this plot apprehended and will turn him over to the UN, but I don't think there's any need for anyone else to be taken in.”
He was looking at Bucky as he said it, and relief rolled through him. A refuge sounded good, for just as long as it took for him to find somewhere to hide away where he'd never found again, not by Stark, not by the UN and especially not from any other fucker who knew the words that could turn him into their slave.
But then, Bucky was kinda freaked out by it as well, so that was only fair.
He thought about what Hawkeye might be like, going over the few brief minutes that they'd had together. He'd been there for Steve as soon as he'd asked for help, so he was loyal. He'd grinned at Steve and they were clearly friends, so he had to be a decent guy. Steve wouldn't have a friend who was an asshole.
Which meant even Stark must have a good side to him, although Bucky was finding that hard to find when his arm was lying, torn off, in a Siberian bunker.
Hawkeye was friends with Stark as well. Or, he had been. Bucky wondered how he felt about being locked up by someone he'd thought was a friend.
The problem was that Bucky had absolutely no idea how Hawkeye would be reacting to any of this, because he had no idea what he was actually like as a person. He had a rundown of his skills and notable missions in his head that Hydra must have put there at some point, but nothing on what kind of music he listened to, or if he was the forgiving type, or what kind of jokes he found funny.
“What's he like?” he asked, probably too abruptly given they'd been flying in silence since they'd taken off, “Hawkeye?”
“Clint?” said Steve.
Right, probably calling your soulmate by their spy handle was weird. Clint. Bucky sounded it out in his head and thought he could probably get used to it.
Steve considered for a moment, then shrugged. “He's kinda an asshole, but in a good way. Like you, actually. He likes bad jokes and little pranks and is smug-as-shit about his aim. He's completely reliable though, always got your back, and he's got a soft streak a mile wide. He was really there for Wanda when she first joined us, when her brother had just died.”
Bucky took that in, then slowly nodded. That sounded like the kind of guy that Bucky could get along with.
Well, apparently he was going to end up doing a lot more than 'getting along' with him, but Bucky wasn't letting himself think the l-word yet. He had enough shit going on without trying to work out how he was meant to manage a romance.
Unless he was wrong, and it really had been a coincidence that Clint had said the exact words inscribed on Bucky's shoulder to him the first time they met. Right.
Steve made Bucky stay in the helicopter as the getaway driver, which made Bucky grit his teeth with annoyance, but he stayed put. Steve sort of had a point about needing to take off as soon as they'd got everyone, and maybe even about the disadvantage Bucky would be at without his arm.
He wondered where you got a new bionic arm if you didn't have neo-Nazi scientists outfitting you. Tony Stark, probably, which sucked.
Steve's team came rushing out about fifteen minutes after Steve had gone in. They climbed inside the helicopter and Clint gave him a nod of acknowledgement, but there wasn't time for more than that, not with Steve running out last, shouting for Bucky to, “Go, go, go!”
He took off as fast as he could, soaring up into the sky and leaving behind the guards shooting at them. It was very dark over the sea without the helicopter's running lights on, but super-soldier night vision had to come in useful for something, and it wasn't as if there was much for him to hit.
Clint moved to sit in the co-pilot's seat and Bucky thought he was going to try and take over because Bucky was useless with only one arm. Instead, he just sent Bucky a quick glance and then left him to it.
Bucky felt his shoulders relax. He wasn't being told he wasn't necessary and he wasn't being trusted blindly. Clint had evaluated Bucky's ability and then decided it was good enough to entrust the lives of his friends to.
That felt good. That felt like he was part of a team and not just the awkward add-on that they'd all risked their lives for, not for his own sake but because Steve had asked them to.
He made his mind up in that moment, opened his mouth, and said pretty much the first thing that came to mind that seemed unique enough to be unmistakeable if Clint had it written on his body somewhere.
"Welcome to being a known fugitive from international law."
Clint twitched as if he'd been electrocuted (but only by a very mild charge. Bucky knew exactly how much you twitched for each voltage of electricity) but didn't say anything. Instead, he just stared at the side of Bucky's face.
Did that mean Bucky had said Clint's words or was he only just becoming aware that he was now a fugitive and was re-evaluating his life choices?
What the hell was the second thing you said to your soulmate meant to be?
Bucky was going to just stick close to him and wait for a sign on what to do next.
Barnes rolled his eyes. “Yeah, that's more like how Steve described you. He said you were kind of an asshole.”
Clint gaped and clutched at his chest as if wounded, then turned to lean out and yell at Steve. “Cap! How can you go about maligning me to your old war buddies like that? I saved your ass from a guy dressed as a giant frog!”
“A what now?” asked Sam as Steve groaned.
“We agreed to never mention that again, Clint,” he called. “We had a pact.”
Bucky tapped Clint's shoulder to get his attention back. “You're going to tell me all about it, right?”
Clint grinned at him, his eyes shining in a way that made Bucky's breath catch. “Oh yeah,” he said. “Don't worry, I'll hook you up with all the ridiculous shit Steve got involved with without you. Got to have my soulmate's back when it comes to mocking his best pal, right?”
He said it easily, as if he didn't even have to stop to think about having Bucky's back. Bucky felt his smile ease into something softer and maybe a little soppy. Apparently, this guy saw nothing wrong with offering to have the back of a guy who had spent seventy years as Hydra's assassin.
How the hell had Bucky ended up with so many people on his side?
“I bet I've got some stories from back before that Steve hasn't mentioned,” he offered in return, which made Clint's grin widen.
Maybe it was time to stop hiding and try living. For the first time, Bucky let himself think of Wakanda not as another place to try and disappear in, but as a new beginning. A new beginning that would include his soulmate.
Yeah, that was worth giving a try.